The effigy

Mirza Athar Baig, Haider Shahbaz (tr.) | Updated on January 24, 2020

Ash and smoke: “While you’re making his effigy, you think of all the people you hate so much, so so much, that if you ever got your hands on would burn them alive”   -  ISTOCK.COM


The responsibility for making an effigy was given to Siraj Din, the old security guard who had looked after the party office for many years.

And this responsibility was handed over to him in such a sudden manner — Siraj Din was not expecting it at all — that at first, he was completely speechless, unable to understand what the two senior officers of the party were asking him to do. It was the middle of the night. Hashim sahib and Rehman sahib had finalised all the arrangements for tomorrow’s protest: Speakers, protestors, megaphone, garlands, media people, tyres for burning, and the effigy...

“And the effigy!” This thought struck Hashim sahib’s mind at the same time as thunder struck outside. The city was getting drenched in heavy rain. It was monsoon.

“And the effigy,” Rehman sahib repeated absentmindedly. He was distracted by the rain. “I hope this rain doesn’t ruin our plans. How will we do the protest march if the rain collects on the street?”

“Just think about the rain as a divine blessing for now. Haven’t you noticed? Every time it rains during an important occasion, the organisers are quick to claim it’s a sign from God.”

“But, my friend... you worry about the fire... I mean, the effigy, which we have to burn. Who will make the effigy, have you thought about it?”

Craftsman: “The effigy was slowly coming together. Siraj Din looked at it with adoration as it took shape on his floor”   -  ISTOCK.COM


“Yeah, I won’t be satisfied without burning an effigy.” Rehman sahib suddenly felt an itch in his ear. He inserted his index finger in his ear and shook it robustly until he had completely decimated the inside of his ear. The itch subsided. He thought that maybe his old ear problem was coming back. Maybe he can use this excuse to get out of making a speech tomorrow. But it would’ve been better if his throat was sore; that’s a better excuse. Anyway, tomorrow evening, after the protest — but if he got arrested? — well, in that case, whenever he is free, he will go visit an ENT specialist. Then he said loudly: “Yeah, we need to do something. We need an effigy.”

Everything was happening in front of the security guard, Siraj Din. It had been happening since the morning, actually, since the past few days. He was deeply impressed by the talk of the leaders, but then again, sometimes, he wasn’t impressed at all. He had been sitting in the corner for many hours while the meeting had been going on. Sometimes, he felt such deep passion that he wanted to jump and shout and stand in the middle of all the leaders and party workers. But at other times, when he felt hungry, he just wanted everyone to leave so he could go back to his quarter and eat something. One by one, everyone had left after noting down their responsibilities. But just as Hashim sahib and Rehman sahib were about to leave, they had remembered the effigy. And then the rain had started too. But the rain doesn’t really matter. They can leave in their cars. But what’s the deal with this effigy?

“The effigy will burn, Rehman sahib, it will definitely burn! And his... effigy... will burn... this is a matter... of emotions... matter... of the people’s emotions.” Hashim sahib used a thick expletive after each sentence. Another thunder strike. They saw it before they heard it. It illuminated the room. Hashim sahib noticed Siraj Din sitting in the corner.

“Siraj Din! You will make the effigy!” Siraj Din heard the thunder and Hashim sahib’s command concurrently.

He didn’t respond initially, then stuttered: “Yes, sir... sir, yes... eff... effigy...”

“Effigy.” Rehman sahib started laughing. But Hashim sahib was still looking intently at Siraj Din. “Effigy, Siraj Din, effigy. His.... effigy... which will be burned tomorrow... burned to a cinder... don’t you get it?”

“A clay effigy, right, sir?” Siraj Din asked in a trembling voice.

Rehman sahib laughed again. “Clay? Clay statues... those will be burned on the day of judgement.” He looked at Hashim sahib, hoping to get some praise for his witty comment, but Hashim sahib got even angrier and said: “This is not the time for your wordplay! This is a difficult situation. Tell this idiot that he must make the effigy. It’s past midnight. It’s raining everywhere. Our workers have already left. We don’t have anyone else who can make an effigy. Tell him. He will have to do this.”

Rehman sahib walked towards the security guard and told him affectionately: “Look, Siraj Din, if I remember correctly, both of us joined this party at the same time, we have both wasted our youth in this office, and now we will waste our old age here too.”

“Sir, what are you saying!” Siraj Din suddenly felt like he had been elevated from the ground to the skies. “Morning, yes sir, by morning, my lord, your highness, morning. I will offer my life, there’s no problem...”

“We don’t need your life right now.” Hashim sahib curtly responded. Rehman sahib smiled and told him: “Keep your life right now, Siraj. Just do what Hashim sahib tells you to do.”

“I will do it, sir! No problem at all. I declare that I will do it. I will make the effigies. Thousands, millions of effigies!”

“He’s an idiot.” Hashim sahib concluded. Then addressed Siraj Din: “You don’t understand? We don’t need thousands, millions of effigies, you idiot. You need to make one effigy... one... his... effigy... his...” Hashim sahib filled his sentence with such shocking expletives that Rehman sahib and Siraj Din were taken aback.

“Sir, I will make his effigy. Just, just tell me how to make it?”

“Yes, I’ll tell you.” Hashim sahib exhaled with relief and then started to scan the room. The rain was slowing down. And the thunder was less startling now, further away in the skies. “There are only party records in this room,” he announced glumly.

“Do this,” Hashim sahib looked at Siraj Din, who was staring at him with wide-open eyes and a wide-open mouth. “Do this, look in your quarter or in some other room, find four sticks of bamboo. Two legs, two arms... one head... tie them together really tight... then... find some... old pillows, clothes... we need to make a garland of shoes as well!... tie a small, old pillow on the head and cover it with some sheet... then make some marks for the eyes, nose, and mouth... you can use some ash or rub some black off the griddle... got it?”

Siraj Din started to laugh. He was beginning to enjoy the creative work of making this effigy. He spoke more confidently now: “I got it, sir, completely. But sir, I mean, how will we know that this effigy is... his effigy?” Siraj Din controlled his urge to fire out an expletive like Hashim sahib.

“Yes, maybe I can help you here, Siraj Din.” Rehman sahib spoke up. “In order to make his effigy, it’s necessary that while you’re making his effigy, you think of all the people you hate, all the people you’ve ever hated, the people you hate so much, so so much, that if you ever got your hands on them, you would burn them alive. Just keep thinking of these feelings.”

“God willing!” Siraj Din announced with chilling conviction.

“Excellent!” Hashim sahib congratulated Siraj Din. “And listen, all the materials you use, bamboo sticks, pillows, clothes etc., you will get paid for them. Don’t worry, okay. And before we burn it tomorrow, we will announce that the old, trusted security guard of our party office made this effigy. Now the office’s honour is in your hands.” Siraj Din nodded solemnly as Hashim sahib and Rehman sahib patted him on the back and left.

The rain and thunder regained their former intensity after the leaders made their exit. Siraj Din locked up the office in a dream-like daze and went to his quarter.

He found all the materials for the effigy easily. There was no shortage of old, dirty pillows. He had stashed away some bamboo sticks, which had been used to prop up a banner in an earlier protest. They were lying unused in his quarter. He selected the oldest clothes he could find. He even found a needle and some thread. Then he took the griddle off the stove and placed it on the ground next to where he was sitting. He will need it when he makes the eyes, mouth, and nose.

Siraj Din picked up a bamboo stick. This could be the leg, or the chest, or the two arms. He panicked and put the stick back. His forehead was sweating. He wiped off the sweat and thought that he also needed to make a forehead for the effigy, and the hands, and the neck. I can’t do all this, he thought. Then he suddenly remembered Rehman sahib’s instructions: When you are making his effigy, you should think about all the people in your life you hate so much that you want to burn them alive.

Siraj Din smiled. A weight had lifted off his shoulders. This is easy, he told himself. I just need to think about the people... who you hate so much, so much, that you want to burn them alive. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Let’s start from childhood. Start from the beginning. All the people... he was thinking this when a devilish thought came into his mind: Should he think about his father? Should he throw him in the fire with the effigy? Then he quickly repented and started thinking about other people he could focus on. He was astounded — the people were entering his thoughts, but their body parts! Some of them had the ears of a donkey, some of them had the nose of a dog, noses, eyes, moustaches. Oh god, moustaches! So many moustaches and so many eyes!

He felt extremely tired. The hateful act of imagining all these body parts had exhausted him. Then his stomach reminded him that he still had not eaten anything. He thought, I should at least eat something before I start burning people alive.

The effigy was slowly coming together. Siraj Din looked at it with adoration as it took shape on his floor. He got up and went to a corner where he had kept two leftover qeema naans. They were brought for the party workers in the afternoon. After eating the naans and drinking two glasses of cold water, he went back to work. But... nothing happened. He tried to remember the person, the event, when he was falsely accused of a robbery by his employer. He was taken to the local jail and beaten all night. He kept telling them he was innocent. Those eyes, those feet, those boots... those kicks.

But nothing happened. Every time he pictured a body part in his mind, it would disappear in a cloud of smoke and he would be left with a feverish haze. Maybe he had numbed his mind by imagining too many hateful, reprehensible and detestable human body parts.

Now the office’s honour is in your hands. Siraj Din revived himself and got to his feet. He grabbed his own head and shook it. He tried to steady himself. He tried to tie the effigy together with a rope. But the rope kept slipping. We will announce that the old, trusted security guard of our party office made this effigy. Siraj Din ran towards the window and opened it and tried to look outside at the falling rain. But there was nothing there. No rain, cloud, thunder. There was a moon. Like nothing had happened at all. Siraj Din moved...


Postscript: “Is it the incomplete story of an effigy or is it the story of an incomplete effigy?”   -  ISTOCK.COM


Letter to dear respected Great Writer


You must’ve figured out who calls you by this name by now. How are you? It’s been a while. I haven’t seen you or spoken to you. I’m writing a letter. Hope everything is well. I’m writing a letter because... I mean, I’m also writing because I wanted to send you an unfinished text, an incomplete story. I lose control over my tongue when I’m writing a letter. But forget that. Damn it.

So, dear, the thing is that you are an established writer. You write after detailed planning. You publish. You represent. But I only write when I get that familiar literary knot in my stomach. But sometimes the knot goes away before I finish writing. That’s what happened with this story. Anyway, before you read further, maybe you should read the story I’m sending with the letter. Then come back here.

So you read it... whatever it is. I thought I’ll call it Effigy Story. But now it’s an Incomplete Effigy Story. And this is also interesting: Is it the incomplete story of an effigy or is it the story of an incomplete effigy? I guess, this is why I’m where I am and you are where you are.

So, dear, I thought I would finish this story. Siraj Din will finish making the effigy. Hashim sahib and Rehman sahib will arrive in the morning. Hashim sahib will lose his temper. Call Siraj Din an idiot. Ask him what he’s made. Your mother’s... etc. etc. Rehman sahib will laugh and say, Siraj Din is a disciple of Picasso’s cubism. Eventually, they decide to take the effigy along with them because there’s no time to make another one and it’s absolutely necessary to burn an effigy at the protest. It starts raining when the protest is planned to begin. Everybody disperses. But Siraj Din insists that the effigy must be burned. He gets a can of petrol from somewhere and douses the effigy. He sets fire to it. The rain is still pouring. Everyone is standing under trees and ledges and watching. In the middle of the street, under pouring rain, the effigy is burning. But everyone is shocked. There are heartrending screams coming from the effigy. You must’ve understood what I wanted to say.

But darling, I thought, this ending is becoming very political. And you know that I detest political fiction. I detest representing social concerns. In fact, I detest representation itself. So tell me, what should I do? I have also thought of other endings for this story (or whatever it is). But what do you think?

Otherwise, everything is good. I keep breathing inside this damned void. People say, you should be happy wherever you are.

So, dear, look at my writing when you get the chance. By the way, if you want to edit it a bit and publish it under your name, that’s also fine with me. In fact, it will make me very happy.

Otherwise, you know my financial situation is pretty grim right now. It wasn’t that good before either. But now my wife needs surgery for her gall bladder. Some friends are helping. They will earn prayers and rewards in the afterlife. Expecting your response...

What else is happening... your new book is better than the last one.


Complete incomplete effigy


You find burnt pages all over the world. Who wrote them? When did they write them? Why did they write them? And why did they burn them? Nobody knows.


Mirza Athar Baig



Mirza Athar Baig is a professor of philosophy at Government College University, Lahore, and a leading Urdu writer



Haider Shahbaz


Haider Shahbaz’s debut translation of Mirza Athar Baig’s Hassan’s State of Affairs is forthcoming from HarperCollins

Published on January 24, 2020

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